Kaiser fires back against claims it prioritizes PR over medical care

The Courage Campaign Institute recently launched an ad campaign against Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente and claims the system prioritizes its reputation over the needs of its mental health patients. However, Kaiser firmly denies those allegations and says the ads are "the latest tactics in a union smear campaign."

The CCI — the educational arm of California-based nonprofit advocacy group Courage Campaign — began running its ads attacking Kaiser in Bay Area Rapid Transit trains the week of June 15. The ads promote a website the institute created that includes testimonials from current and former Kaiser mental health patients. The CCI claims Kaiser fails to provide legally mandated mental health services.

On the same day the CCI launched its ad campaign in BART trains, Kaiser began running its own ads in the trains. The Kaiser ads claim "a small union" is running a smear campaign against the system. The ad directs readers to a website Kaiser created that claims the National Union of Healthcare Workers is behind the smear campaign.

The CCI held a press conference July 1 addressing the Kaiser ads. During that conference, the institute admitted it gets "a small amount" of funding from NUHW, but the exact amount was not disclosed.

However, Kaiser is convinced the NUHW is behind the attack. John Nelson, vice president of government relations at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, told Becker's that the institute's ads are "false and misleading" and says they are "part of a years-long strategy by the NUHW to pressure Kaiser Permanente into giving the union what it demands in bargaining." The NUHW has paid more than $95,000 to the Courage Campaign over the past few years, according to Mr. Nelson.

"We find these tactics, which are intended to damage Kaiser Permanente's reputation and create unnecessary fear among our members and the community, to be deplorable," says Mr. Nelson. "The union's campaign is a disservice to Kaiser Permanente's members, who may be dissuaded from seeking needed mental health services after seeing the false claims made in the ads."

Courage Campaign Executive Chairman Paul Song, MD, released a statement saying, "If Kaiser responded to the needs of its mental health patients as urgently as it did our ad campaign, we wouldn't be running our campaign in the first place."

The institute noted Kaiser agreed to pay a $4 million fine for failing to provide adequate access to mental health services in 2013. The California Department of Managed Health Care also issued a report this year that revealed some Kaiser patients were still waiting weeks to see therapists and psychiatrists, according to a Los Angeles Times report. 

More articles on Kaiser:

Push and pull: How Kaiser Permanente is bringing innovation to scale
Mayo, Kaiser CEOs share insight on keeping health costs down
Kaiser doles out $1.5M to nonprofits


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